The above photographs show the difference between the way I am now, and a few years ago at my lowest weight. I use these photos because they are the most shocking contrasts, and they are the ones that makes people stop and notice, and maybe even read what I write. However, these pictures say nothing of my eating disorder. In truth, I don’t have many photo’s looking like I do on the left, as I was only at this particular low weight for short periods of time (relative to the course of my E.D.).And what might be even more surprising is that when I looked the most underweight, I didn’t actually (consciously) struggle that much. The time when I struggled and cried and carried out my most severe E.D. behaviours was when I was at a completely normal weight. You would just never know it.
And this is what is SO wrong with the portrayal of eating disorders, particularly in the media. We say the words “eating disorder” and immediately think of an skeletal teenage girl. We think of weakness, of not eating for days on end and most importantly we think anorexia. In fact, anorexia nervosa only accounts for 10% of all eating disorders, with Bulimia making up 40% and the remaining 50% suffering from Binge Eating Disorder and EDNOS. Yet, anorexia nervosa seems to be recognised as the only legitimate eating disorder. As with many sufferers, my disorder manifested as anorexia, the binge/purge subtype, in which my purging consisted of large amounts of exercise. This meant that I would restrict my food for long periods of time, lose “control” and binge. This I now understand was my body’s way of looking after me and ensuring I got the energy and nutrients I desperately needed. This would then be followed by a period of intense guilt and self-loathing, which would ultimately lead to excessive exercise to burn off the calories before starting my “diet” again. The restrict-binge cycle is a nasty little thing, and it is an absolute bitch to break free of.
I soon found that I physically could not keep up the restriction and the weight loss, and my weight gradually returned to normal. I still restricted. I still binged and obsessively exercised. The only difference now was my weight was normal. This is what is called EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), or as it has now been changed to in the new DSM-5 OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) and it was around this time that I began to realise that was I was doing was not normal behaviour. It was not normal to scrutinise the nutritional information of menu’s before going out, or to compete daily with myself how low my calories could go. It was not normal to not have a period because I didn’t have a sufficient amounts of body fat, and it was not normal for my hair to be falling out, and to feel dread at having to walk even a small distance because I was so exhausted. It was not normal to spend 2 hours in the gym while all my friends played tennis in the sun, and it certainly was not normal to refuse anyone else’s cooking because of the physical fear that arose when I didn’t know exactly what was in my food. It wasn’t normal to have lost the light inside of me, all because of a number on the scale. In fact, it was never about weight or food. It was about not feeling good enough and finding any way that I could to validate myself and to find that “fix”.
So I started my recovery. I should have got help, but I didn’t for the reason that the majority of people suffering from eating disorders don’t get help – because they don’t think they are ill enough, or thin enough to justify seeking help. My demons were still present every single day, but now it seemed so much worse as I actually acknowledged they were there, where as before I was pretending they were on my side. I fought these contradicting forces everyday, between knowing what I SHOULD be doing, yet feeling powerless to the hold my E.D. had on me.
Patience. Self-Compassion. Online anonymous support groups, talking to other people who had gone through the same thing, hundreds of podcasts and books and youtube videos. Cutting all ties to the inner ghremlin inside my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, thin enough or pretty enough. Realising that “strong is the new skinny” and obsessing over fitness was not, and will never be, the way out of an eating disorder, and it will never fix my broken body image. You have to heal yourself from the inside out. From this, I had three turning points:
1) Meeting my boyfriend a couple of years ago. I’m not saying someone can cure you – they can’t, that part is absolutely up to you. However, support is absolutely crucial in this process. At that point in my life I was at a critical crossroads – I could either cruise down the road I was going, as what I like to call living with “high functioning partial E.D.”, or I could choose to recover, not half heartedly as I had been doing, but the whole hog. So that’s what I did.
2) The second thing, which came from my constant research, listening to E.D. podcasts and reading hundreds of books, was this: Eating Disorders are NOT YOUR FAULT. We are influenced by our weight obsessed, perfectionistic culture every second of the day, and interestingly, there are more and more findings of strong genetic links and specific genes associated with eating disorders. We are a product of both our society, and of our genes. These things are not your fault.
3) Finally, speaking out. Without a doubt the most powerful healing tool for me has been talking. The first time I publicly spoke about my eating disorder, I felt like a fraud. I was talking about it on the radio, on TV, on Instagram, in my blog and all the while I felt fake. I was never that thin. I was never that sick physically. What if people didn’t believe me? And it’s true, one of the main comments I received was “you didn’t look like you had an eating disorder”. EATING DISORDERS ARE INVISIBLE MENTAL ILLNESSES. We are manipulative and we lie and we do anything we can to hide it from the rest of the world. And this is exactly why I continue to speak about them, because it is so so important for people to change their perceptions of what an e.d. is, and we should validate and support anyone, whether they are 60 pounds or 600 pounds, who is going through this.
So yes, recovery has given me an extra 20, 25 pounds or so. But in all honesty that has been the least important part (albeit one of the hardest). I have gained so, so much more. I have gained the trust of my body. I have gained pizza and ice cream (see below) and guilt free weekends and boobs (winner). I have gained trust and self compassion. I have gained a healthy body, skin, hair and nails, and an abundance of energy. I have gained knowledge about myself. I know how my body operates inside out and every thought or negative behaviour I understand (to a large extent) the real meaning behind. For example, the thought “I want to restrict my food” really means I am feeling out of control in other aspects of life. “I want to lose weight” means I don’t feel good enough and I want people to know I am not okay. A “binge” (I use the word flexibly, to mean over-eating when you’re not hungry and feeling like you can’t stop) will signify that I have unconsciously restricted during the day, or the previous day, or even had a restrictive thought such as “I should not be eating this”. Your body is clever, and despite what you may think, it is always working for you, not against you. But the most important thing recovery has given me? Connection. The more I talk to people and people talk to me about their struggles, the more I realise how messed up we think we all are. But in reality, we are not messed up – we are human and by acknowledging this common humanity, it allows us to make deeper connections without the barriers of our struggles and the shame and the guilt stuck inbetween us.
Some days are harder than others, and I accept that. Very occasionally I flirt with the idea of going back, thinking how much easier it would be to fall back into those old, familiar habits. But then I remember how much of a LIFE I now have, without 80% of it being spent on calories and food and exercise and self hate. My life is worth so much more than the number on the scale or the image I see in the mirror. And this is why I carry on – to share my story, to make a difference and to inspire others to do the same.
If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder or any sort of mental illness, please reach out. Talk to your doctor, your friend, your mum, even me. You will not be judged. Everyone is capable of recovery and every single person DESERVES recovery. And you were made for a much bigger purpose than this.
Lengthy rambles continue later on in the week, discussing how to love and support someone through an eating disorder.
Any questions please contact me through any social media:
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